But, neither John Goins nor Heath Ackerman see employment with Wacker as a sacrifice.
Goins, 38, is a 1992 graduate of Charleston High School. He attended “a few” semesters at Middle Tennessee State University to study computer programming. But, Goins found that line of work was not for him. He left school and went to work for DuPont in Chattanooga for awhile and then for Dynasty Spas in McMinn County.
“I worked in various industries until I had this opportunity,” he said. “I started with computer programming, but I realized pretty quick that wasn’t for me.”
He initially applied in 2009 for a job as a senior chemical operator with Wacker at the first opportunity. However, when he did not get a response from the company, he decided to take things into his own hands. He enrolled in school and reapplied again for the position.
Goins, who has been married to Christy for 10 years, said going to work at Wacker was a good move for him.
“I think of this as a culmination of all of my previous experiences,” he said. “This is more of a career than a job. I see this as my last job until retirement.”
Ackerman, 29, moved his wife, Natalie, and three children to Cleveland from Indiana about two years ago. He came to Cleveland with the intention of going to work for Wacker though he had another job before he arrived.
“It wasn’t difficult to leave my old job. I knew Wacker took care of their people. We were going to have good benefits, good pay and I was excited to come to Wacker,” he said.
Ackerman, who is also a senior chemical operator, graduated from high school in Illinois in 2001. He went to college to study computer electronic engineering but stopped a semester short of earning an associate’s degree.
He said it was somewhat scary to move to the South from Indiana, “but I knew if I got on with Wacker, that’s somewhere I’m going to retire from. The way I looked at is, if I got hired on by Wacker, I would never have to put another application in anywhere else until I retired. This is somewhere you retire from.”
The most recent graduates from Wacker Institute will remain in Bradley County until sometime in 2014 when they will leave for six months of training in Germany. The polysilicon plant west of Charleston is scheduled to start production in mid-2015, less than a year after the grads return home.
“Thank you so much for your contribution. Your contribution is very important,” Bachhuber told them. He said they would go to Germany to gain firsthand knowledge and, shortly after returning, would put that knowledge to work. He said Wacker Polysilicon North America would be a world-class plant.
Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis and representatives from the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce attended the ceremony.
Chamber President and CEO Gary Farlow said, “It’s a great day for Wacker and for their second class to graduate from the Wacker Institute.”
Farlow said the students represent a wide range of age and experience from other industries. “Dr. Bachhuber commended them for showing flexibility in working with the new plant schedule.”
Wacker announced in October 2012 that it was delaying completion of its $1.8 billion plant by 18 months, to mid-2015.
Hemlock Semiconductor followed with its own announcement in early January that it would lay off 300 of 400 employees at its Clarksville polysilicon manufacturing plant and 100 more in Michigan. Hemlock had planned to start production of hyperpure polycrystalline silicon at its $1.2 billion facility later this year.
According to news reports, Hemlock President Andrew Tometich said the plant will be utilized, but added it’s not known whether it will open for business at any time in 2013.
Farlow said Wacker has not given any indication it is halting construction, but only slowed from a fast-track construction schedule to a normal pace.
“They’ve still got equipment coming in and are still putting things in place in the plant. The only difference is, they’re now on a more normal schedule. I think that’s an indication of Wacker’s longer-range view of their market and industry, and they are preparing these people to be world-class employees.”
Davis said he saw the graduation of the new employees as further proof that Wacker is moving forward with construction and training.
“There’s a lot of progress being made and I think it’s great for Southeast Tennessee and Bradley County,” he said.
Wacker Polysilicon Human Resources Director Erika Burk said also what happened in Clarksville had nothing to do with Wacker. So far, the company has approximately 270 employees, including about 50 German nationals on temporary assignment to Tennessee.
“Things are moving right along. They’re moving forward and we plan to be up and running in mid-2015. Everyone who was hired will stay hired,” she said. “This is the last fast-track group and the last of this type of graduation, at least for right now.”
She said there are still more than 100 students enrolled in the institute. They will go through the interview process “and hopefully they will be working for us in 2015.”